Children playing tag, parents reconnecting, and passersby catching a few minutes of relaxation beneath the redwood trees – this is what can be observed any day at the Creek Plaza in the heart of downtown San Anselmo. Since 2019, there have been plans to reconstruct the Creek Park area to be a more inviting community space and an environmental asset.
As far as flood mitigation goes, the County of Marin has been working to remove the impediments that contribute to flooding in the greater San Anselmo area. In collaboration with this goal, San Anselmo Public Works has managed the operations of the Reimagine Creek Park project, starting with the construction of the Creek Plaza. As the final component, the Town of San Anselmo Community Advisory Committee created and facilitated the design contest for the new plaza area. So, who’s the lucky winner?
The answer: RHAA Landscape Architects, a Mill Valley based architecture firm. In 1958, RHAA was founded by Robert Royston, Asa Hanamoto, Lou Alley, and Kaz Abey, some of the legendary grandfathers of landscape architecture in California. The original RHAA office was on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, but the four founding partners built a second office in Mill Valley. Today, there are two offices: one in Mill Valley and one in Union Square.
Since its establishment, RHAA has been involved in numerous architecture projects throughout the Bay Area. According to current RHAA president Manuela King, some of their recent work has been with the Marin Civic Center roundabout, the initial planning for all the BART Smart Stations, the Miller Avenue plan in Mill Valley, the transformation of the Corte Madera Village in 2008, and the Dunphey Waterfront Park in Sausalito.
In 2019, RHAA entered a design concept in the “Reimagine Creek Park” contest. The winner’s concept would act as the foundation of the Creek Park redesign, with a successive public input process.
“We try to keep our creative juices flowing in our office by entering one or two competitions a year,” King said.
Because the Creek Park contest was local, King and the RHAA team thought it would be a good one to enter. Out of all the 15 contest entrants, seven were approved and four of those seven were chosen to be finalists. Out of the four finalists, RHAA’s concept won.
“Our approach was very much about being as real as we could be. We wanted something that could actually be built, that wasn’t overdesigned, or overly expensive, so thinking about the community, thinking about the connections that this could have with San Anselmo avenue and the surrounding neighborhood…” King said when asked what she felt made RHAA’s concept successful.
King describes the concept as “an open space for the entire park that activated it for the community” and a place to “let the community feel the presence of the creek.” King recognizes how much people appreciate the open space, with its towering redwoods and open access to the creek, and she wanted to maximize the space and highlight its natural beauty with the new concept.
“The idea of opening up the creek and making people understand that it’s there, appreciate it, see it…is just something that we were very, very excited about,” King said.
In addition to the design highlighting the creek, King also looks forward to the community involvement aspect. Although RHAA’s concept won, the final design will be influenced heavily by community input. Thus, the next step for the design of the commons and the new crossing includes a community input process that will bring RHAA’s concept to life and give people the opportunity to provide valuable input in the design process (provided that the community comes up with the necessary funds).
“I enjoy working with communities to help them imagine what a place could be,” King said.
With its focus on community engagement and highlighting the creek that will be uncovered by the County work, King looks forward to receiving input and implementing RHAA’s concept soon. Until then, community members will continue to enjoy the Creek Plaza and formulate ideas for how they may wish to see the area reconstructed. Using RHAA’s concept as a foundation, the future of Creekside Commons is in the hands of the community.